The late Lou Reed is best known for the experimental art rock that he performed as frontman for the Velvet Underground. But according to a new biography, Reed's first taste of fame came in the early 60s when he tried to launch a dance craze called 'the ostrich.'
Reed's attempt to pen 'The Macarena' of his day began when the fresh-faced graduate of Syracuse University took a job as a songwriter for Pickwick Records, a New York label that specialized in releasing a slew of one-off records written to capitalize on the latest fads in pop culture.
"They would put us in a room and say, 'Write ten California songs, ten Detroit songs,'" or ten songs about star-crossed teens if that was the latest trend in mainstream music, Reed once said. Then the Pickwick staff would come up with a catchy name for the studio-assembled group and put out the cheap singles in stores.
Reed was working as a songwriter and session guitarist for Pickwick when he read a newspaper article about ostrich feathers becoming the latest fashion trend. So he whipped up a dance tune called 'The Ostrich,' which had bizarre steps like "put your hands up, upside your knees," "stand on your head" and "take it forward, put your head into your knees...do just about anything you please." Which sounds more like tips to pleasure yourself a la Steve Bannon.
The song was released under the fictional band name The Primitives, and it started to catch on. So when people called Pickwick to book The Primitives for gigs, the label had to throw together a band to promote the single. That's how Reed met up with future Velvet collaborator John Cale, who was tabbed by Pickwick to play bass in the makeshift quartet.
That means there probably wouldn't have been a Velvet Underground if it hadn't been for a newspaper article about Australian bird feathers and a record company looking to cash in on any and every fad out there. So if you're a big Reed fan, check out the track below and see if you can figure out the ostrich moves.
And if you enjoyed this anecdote, check out more stories from the Velvet Underground's early days from biographer Anthony DeCurtis' Lou Reed: A Life, which hits shelves on Oct. 10.